In 1941, Dili (125.580E 8.564S) was the capital of the eastern, Portuguese-controlled half of the island of Timor, which is located at the eastern end of the Netherlands East Indies north of Australia. The city had a rather poor port and an airfield at Komoro, west of the city.

Portugal was a neutral power throughout the Pacific War, but neither the Allies nor the Japanese were terribly particular about this, and elements of Sparrow Force (40 Battalion) began landing on 17 December 1941. The small Portuguese garrison offered no resistance, but the Portuguese governor declared himself a prisoner of war and confined himself to his residence, which preserved the appearance of Portuguese neutrality. Eventually there were some 400 Dutch, 270 Australian, and 600 native troops in the city. The Japanese responded by detailing some 1000 men of 2 Battalion, 228 Regiment to capture the town. The Japanese landings on Timor were meant to cut the Allied supply line to Java while establishing a defensive perimeter against any counteroffensive from Darwin.

The Japanese initially caught the Allied defenders by surprise. The Allied troops were anticipating the arrival of additional Portuguese troops and mistook the five transports, two destroyers, two minesweepers, and submarine chasersof the Japanese landing force for the Portuguese. However, the Allies quicky recovered from their surprise, and when their shore batteries opened fire on the Japanese ships, the Japanese switched their landings to a point two miles west of Dili. Landings commenced at 0210 on the morning of 20 February. By 0420 the Japanese had brushed aside small Allied rearguards and reached the airfield, and the Allies retreated from the airfield at 0840after a sharp firefight. Japanese lead elements reached Dili by 1220 and the city was secured by 1300. The Japanese claimed that their casualties were just two killed and five wounded, but Portuguese sources claim 200 Japanese were killed fighting for the airstrip.

During the battle, a section of Australian troops stumbled into a Japanese roadblock and surrendered, only to be systematically executed. One of the 16 men was kept alive for interrogation and a second survived the massacre to be spirited away by friendly Timorese.

The airfield was raided frequently by the Allies, beginning with some 20 air sorties in March 1942, but it remained in Japanese hands until the end of the war.


Australian War Memorial (accessed 2013-8-14)

Craven and Cate (1947; accessed 2013-8-14)

Japanese Monograph 16 (1953-1-31; accessed 2013-8-14)

Smith (1985)

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